by Jeremy Leaming
The efforts by Republican controlled statehouses to create more hurdles to voting, such as limiting early voting, creating onerous voter identification requirements, and making it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives, are hardly a recent trend.
Victoria Bassetti, author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters, argues in numerous articles that for a country that prides itself on its form of democracy the burdens on voting do not make good public policy nor provide a solid foundation for a healthy democracy. (This month PBS will air an “Electoral Dysfunction” documentary; the book is a companion piece to the documentary.)
In a piece for The Washington Post, Bassetti says our system of voting is “mystifying” to other countries, largely because of the burdens we place on voting.
“In the United States, we put the burden on the voter,” she writes. “And in doing so, we keep company with nations such as the Bahamas, Belize and Burundi.”
While maintaining that very few would label voter registration “anti-democratic,” she notes that “many political and social scientists believe that our country’s practice of putting the registration burden on individuals, coupled with outmoded, paper-intense registration systems, are major causes of the United States’ perennially low voter turnout. One study estimated that voter registration barriers in the United States depress turnout by 5 to 10 percent.”
In an Oct. 6 column for The New York Times, Bassetti explores how low turnout “produces poor representation, which produces laws people are disinclined to obey and so undermine the process.” She also mentions a rather interesting study regarding how difficult it can be for men to vote, especially if their candidates lose. The study, produced by scientists at Duke and University of Michigan, has something to do with testosterone levels in men and people with normal serotonin levels. (Simply or crudely put, voting can be tough on men because of testosterone reactions and people with weak serotonin systems.)
Though interesting, Bassetti says such studies are not especially helpful to handling “complex issues facing our democracy.”
Some of that complexity centers on the bureaucratic mess voting has become in many states.